Over the years, in my journey with Frugal Living I have also found myself on a journey to more sustainable/organic living.
This seems to be a process that occurs rather naturally-many of my fellow Frugal Living bloggers have seen the same-for example my friend Denise who used to write “Centsible Sawyer” but has since changed her entire focus to living a more natural lifestyle with “Wholesome Mommy“. I even wrote an entire post about it over on the Seventh Generation Blog called “Frugal Goes Green”.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned as I’ve read and researched about all of this is, well, that there is so much to learn. There is new terminology, some of which is not very clear, and the “experts” can differ widely in their opinions!
So I thought I’d give you all a quick little course on what some of the key phrases mean.
This is just what it sounds like-local means that it comes from the local area. In my area of Upstate NY it is pretty easy to find local apples and corn in the stores, as those are huge cash crops around here!
Why is local important?
Vegetables start losing nutrients the moment they are picked, which is why I believe having a vegetable garden is such a healthy thing for your family! Local produce goes straight from the farmer to the store-meaning it is fresher and therefore more nutritious when you buy it. When you purchase locally you are supporting your local economy-friends, neighbors, fellow tax payers! When food is shipped in rather than purchased locally, it takes a significant amount of fossil fuel to get it there (think trucks on the road burning gasoline), so your locally grown produce has a much lower impact on the environment. Less fossil fuels are used and less carbon is emitted.
What is local not?
It is not necessarily organic or sustainable. The “local” moniker only gives you information about location-not methods of production.
According to Wikipedia:
The American Public Health Association (APHA) defines a “sustainable food system”as “one that provides healthy food to meet current food needs while maintaining healthy ecosystems that can also provide food for generations to come with minimal negative impact to the environment.
So sustainable means that you farm or raise livestock in a forward thinking way that enables you to continue doing so into the future. It’s also about planting what is happy to grown naturally in a location, and not trying to change the ecosystem and environment drastically in order to grow what you want.
Why is sustainability important?
The world has limited resources, and once an ecosystem is damaged it may take a very long time (or be impossible) to get the same level of productivity back. Sustainable farmers are trying not to ruin their resources just to get a cash crop today.
What is sustainability not?
Well it isn’t necessarily organic. You can be considered sustainable and still use pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Conversely, you can be fully organic, but not be sustainable-for example pumping water into a dessert and growing heirloom, non genetically engineered lettuce without pesticides and only with organic fertilizers would create organic produce-but not sustainable produce.
Organic can mean many things, and there is a whole certification process that items in the USA have to undergo before they can tout themselves as “organic”. According to Wikipedia:
Products made entirely with certified organic ingredients and methods can be labeled “100% organic”. Products with at least 95% organic ingredients can use the word “organic”. Both of these categories may also display the USDA organic seal. A third category, containing a minimum of 70% organic ingredients, can be labeled “made with organic ingredients”
Long story short is this-when folks say “organic” they typically mean something that is not genetically engineered, that has been grown from an organically grown parent (plant or animal), that has been fed organic food (in the case of livestock), that has not been sprayed with any chemical pesticides (there is a very limited number of pesticides that are “allowable”), has not been grown with chemical fertilizers, or has not been given any types of growth hormones (in the case of livestock).
Sometimes you will find local farms that adhere to USDA organic guidelines but that are not certified due to the cost of the certification process itself. It pays to ask around-and of course you need to be able to trust the person who *swears* that they aren’t using any pesticides.
Why is organic important?
Many people feel that the chemicals that are added to our food via non-organic production are causing health issues in our population. Conventional farming methods-such as pesticide use and chemical fertilizers-are non specific and have been shown to drastically change an ecosystem. When you use a pesticide it kills all insects-not just the “bad” ones. Fertilizers can run off into the ground water, causing problems with algae growth and aquatic life miles away.
What is organic not?
Organic isn’t by definition local. Of course you may have local organic farmers, but when you buy organic produce in your supermarket it may have been shipped from thousands of miles away. It also is not necessarily sustainable (see above) although many organic farmers are also very sustainable.
“Green” is the most fuzzy, overused, undefined term. One definition I found (NOT pertaining to the actual color) was “environmentally sound or beneficial”. Do you see the problem with that? Who gets to decide what is beneficial?
Why is Green important?
Because it’s a catchall phrase. Saying something is “green” gives folks the gist-of course it is up to you to do your research and decide exactly how beneficial it really is!
What is Green not?
Specific or regulated. There is not, as far as I know, any official regulation or guidelines on what may tout itself as “green”. The good old phrase “Caveat Emptor” (Let the buyer beware) holds true here. I know it’s a shock-but folks could be lying just to get you to buy their product. Or their definitions of “beneficial” could simply be different than your own. Know what you are buying and why-don’t fall for “greenwashing” 🙂
Walmart and local/sustainable agriculture.
As you all know (or should) I have a special relationship with Walmart. I get the opportunity to speak to folks that the general public doesn’t, to ask question and be educated on new initiatives and programs and generally enjoy a very high level of access for information. Recently I learned about Walmart’s intent to put more locally grown produce into their stores and to invest in training and infrastructure for small and medium-size farmers, both stateside and globally.
Because of all the confusion surrounding the terms I was glad to see that they put out a short video explaining the initiative:
I personally hope to see more local produce in the stores here in Upstate NY, as well as better signage so I can FIND which items are local. Although I’ll always be a frugal gal-if there is a minimal difference between an item grown here and one shipped from across the country, I’m going to reach for the local one!
What about you? Do you shop local? Organic? Sustainable? What is most important to you, and how do you try to balance it with staying in your family’s budget?
Disclosure: This post is part of a campaign I am participating in with Walmart to let people know about their corporate commitment to buying local and sustainable produce. Walmart has provided me with compensation for this post. My participation is voluntary and opinions, as always are my own.